A flight filled with lasting memories
Retired U.S. Marine Corps Maj. Paul Roosen said it’s difficult to explain the experiences he had while serving in both World War II and the Korean War.
“I don’t remember all of the experiences,” Aiken resident Roosen, 89, said. “At times it was exciting, and at times it was difficult.”
Pearl Harbor was attacked on the morning of Dec. 7, 1941. Two days later, Roosen enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps. He was 18 years old. Three years later, Roosen married his childhood sweetheart, Marguerite, and had six children through their marriage.
Roosen served with the Marines until Sept. 1, 1962, and now has 21 grandchildren and 31 great-grandchildren.
One of those grandchildren, Tom Rupsis, decided this year he was going to give his grandfather a lasting experience to commemorate the years he spent serving his country.
“I live in Billings, Montana, and I’m part of the Rotary Club out here,” Rupsis said. “We saw a couple of presentations about the Honor Flight, and how, for the veterans, it was especially great. I asked my mom and grandfather if he’d ever been on one and he hadn’t.”
The Honor Flight Network is a nonprofit organization that transports veterans to memorials throughout the Washington, D.C., area for free.
To start the trip, about 80 or so veterans and their escorts flew from Columbia to Washington, D.C., earlier this month. They were sent off by a giant crowd.
“It was embarrassing,” Roosen said. “It was a thrilling experience, but embarrassing.”
Rupsis said when they were leaving for Washington, a couple of crowd members thanked his grandfather for his decades of service.
“He leaned over to me and said, ‘That really embarrasses me when people say “thank you,”’” Rupsis said. “Because he sees it as it was his privilege to serve. I said, ‘Well, grandfather, you’re going to have to just suck it up.’ And throughout the day he began to enjoy it more and more.”
From the Tomb of the Unknown in Arlington National Cemetery to the memorial of Iwo Jima, Roosen and his grandson continued to take in the experience as much as they could. But it was a moment at the World War II memorial that really shook Roosen.
“We have family in the D.C. area, and we told our extended family that we were going to be there,” Rupsis said. “They just all showed up – all 35 of us ... After we got back he (Roosen) sent an email to his family. He’s not much of an emotional person; he usually keeps his emotions in check. But he said having his family show up at the memorial – it got to him. I think in his own way he became very emotional.”
Roosen said he didn’t know if he had a favorite memorial that they visited, but that every moment was as thrilling as the next. What the memorials did for Roosen was bring back vivid memories – some good and some sad.
“It brings back memories of combat; I lost some good friends,” Roosen said. “It’s very private and hard to explain. It was a privilege to serve, and that part happens in everyday life. I still left with good memories, mostly happy times with friends.”
Upon returning home to another large welcome, Roosen was left with a slightly different reaction than his grandson.
“My reaction was that back when the veterans were returning from World War II, people couldn’t do enough for them,” Roosen said. “There were joyous reunions, parades and greetings. But from the Korean War, there was nothing. It was different to see this.”
Both Roosen and Rupsis were very thankful and impressed with the Honor Flight Network experience.
“Coming back on the plane, I listened to some of the veterans’ conversations, and I was just really impressed with their humility,” Rupsis said. “They are just all very humble and very modest about what they did.”
Roosen said he will always be thankful for what his grandson did for him.
“I can’t thank him enough, I just can’t,” Roosen said. “I don’t get emotional, but I really almost broke down ... It was a privilege to be able to participate in those endeavors. I am absolutely astounded how people have reacted, supported, and how these individuals and corporations came to make these things possible.”
For more information about Honor Flight, visit www.honorflight.org.
Maayan Schechter is the local government reporter with Aiken Standard. Follow her on Twitter @MaayanSchechter.